Trade Ministers are trying to build bridges with farmers, but without legal guarantees to protect our standards, their efforts will not be enough, says Mark Bridgeman, president of the CLA.
An independent trade policy is a major component of the UK’s future outside the European Union.
That is not abnormal – the overwhelming majority of countries in the world have the power to strike their own trade deals.
As one of the world’s largest economies, it is surely possible for us to develop our policy successfully?
It means, though, that matters of trade are higher up the agenda than ever before.
Activity that was once hidden away in the corridors of Brussels, largely out of view from the public, journalists or even politicians, is now front and centre of national debate.
It is of great concern to landowners in the UK, and I’m sure the European Union too, that talks with Brussels are making such limited progress – with less than six months to go before the end of the transition.
The EU sells £33bn of agricultural products to the UK each year – almost £20bn more than we sell to them - so the Prime Minister is absolutely right to have confidence in the value of our market.
But without a quality free trade agreement, thousands of farmers, both in the UK and the EU, will face a crisis and risk going out of business, with all the devastation to local communities that go with it.
We understand a degree of posturing is inevitable, but no one, on either side of the negotiating table, should forget what is at risk.
We all know too of the risks that come with a free trade deal with the United States.
Allowing food, produced to lower animal welfare and environmental standards than our own, to flood the UK market will be a hammer blow to our own producers, particularly at a time when having high-quality, locally-produced food should be at the top of our national agenda.
We have expressed our concerns directly to the Department of International Trade in meetings with the Secretary of State, Liz Truss, and Minister of State, Greg Hands.
To their credit, they are trying to build bridges with our industry, with Ministers joining webinars for CLA members and writing articles for industry publications, each setting out the opportunities and making a firm commitment that import standards will not drop.
The Trade Secretary is also aware that, unless a commitment finds its way into law, we will continue to be nervous that her warm words may quickly fade once the negotiating parties are sitting round the table trading off different opportunities – be it financial services, automotives or beef.
Mark can be found tweeting at @MarkBCLA